Dark of the black cobra

Felix Thuketana

Felix Thuketana

The truck veered towards a tree next to the road.

As if that was not enough, it burst into flames. A groan. A heartbreaking affair.

Commuters called for their mothers and gods in distant places; sorrow filled the sky and the nearby bushes rumbled in anger.

When Phatimana woke up he found himself on the pathway. It took him a while to realise what had happened. He was surprised to find himself inside a shattered box. The wailing cries of the injured woke him to a ghastly reality.

Consequently, he burst into an agonising cry of his own: "Ste-e-e-lla, my love, are you safe? Are you still alive, my love? Yooo! My Stella!"

He imagined a voice, just a voice answering back. Nothing. Stella had been thrown out; hitting her head on the ground and breaking her neck.

She lay there, as cold as a frog, not bothered with anything and not even remembering that she once lived.

Phatimana tried to stand up, but his left foot couldn't take his weight. Such serious pain! He fell down. And tried to stand up and fell down again. He did not want to accept it, but his leg was broken in several places.

He heard a concoction of noises that made his blood boil and his heart sink. The sound of the speeding police officers' car informed the passers-by about the accident; following it was a blue-light beaming ambulance.

Upon hearing these sounds, Phatimana thought very quickly; they must never catch me. He tried to crawl into the dense forest before the cops could find him.

Pulling his crushed leg along, he came across a cobra chasing a rat. A bloody black snake! It looked so huge in every appearance. When the snake saw him it raised its head as if it were modelling and its neck was full of black venom - venom that shone with a poisonous glint.

Face to face with the snake, Phatimana froze as though electrocuted. He cried out, his eyes bulging, while raising his hands to protect himself. "Iiii, ii, snake! Cobra, I am dead, I am dead, Iiii!"

The snake peered angrily at Phatimana; sizing him up, its neck growing bigger as it looked down upon him with disgust. It showered him with its first venomous spits, covering his whole face.

By the time he reached up to rub his itching eyes, they were already red. It darted at him, viciously. He felt its teeth bite into his head. In the blink of an eye, the snake vanished into the bush.

Phatimana fell on his back, crying hysterically. "Yoo, tyoo, mama! Yoo! I'm dying!"

He became very quiet. The venom was working through his system. His body grew numb. After a while, he began praying. "Our Father, who art in Heaven ."

Moments later, the police arrived.

But it was too late.

lThis short story - One Who Doesn't Listen - is a translation, which in Xitsonga is called N'waninginingi Maka Tindleve, by Limpopo author Felix Thuketana. He is one of 43 established and emerging writers who were honoured through the South African Literary Awards between 2005 and 2007.

Samples of the work of these writers are featured in Band of Troubadours, which was launched by Arts and Culture Minister Pallo Jordan in Johannesburg in December 2007.

The awards are sponsored and organised by the department, Sowetan, Nutrend Publishers and wRite Associates.